Reflection on a Peanutbutter sandwich
“We here on Death Row have been on lockdown since October 13th...” Mark writes from Death Row in this week’s blog. ” We have been fed very little… just enough to keep the body moving… Johny sack meals, which consist of peanut butter sandwich and some other evil looking things… for example, the other day we were brought a “Potato” and a noodle with a mustard sandwich…that’s is! Nothing else! This is how they feed us each meal! That’s lockdown status for us here in the Polunsky Unit.”
We will publish Mark’s blogs daily for the duration of the “Lockdown”. His next blog is far more ominous. He describes daily invasive searches including dogs; pepper spray guns, tossing legal papers, which will take weeks to put back in order, if at all. Call me obsessive but I am still haunted by peanut butter sandwiches three times a day. Why am I? After all Gini Sikes’ investigation ( This week IN DEPTH) did not find any health risk in eating these sandwiches three times a day, for as long as three weeks. Obviously, they are not the most brutal part of the prison system in Texas …so what’s the problem? Call me naive but for me they have become symbolic of how little we know or question what is going on in this vast archipelago of American prisons, with its population of over 2 million people. Take for example the 10-minute segment we publish this week, from a groundbreaking, 2005 investigation by British journalist, Deborah Davis, on the brutality inside American prisons. Deborah is a friend and colleague. We have collaborated professionally on several projects. Deborah is an award-winning journalist who works with one of the UK’s flagship investigative journalism units. Some of the images in this segment will disturb or even shock you, but I found the notes people left on YouTube after watching the film far more intriguing:
“Raping the inmates or beating them handcuffed might be too much, I disagree with that,” wrote ‘Slovakianstallion’ a week ago. “But on the other hand I think prisoners (especially the ones charged with things like murder, man slaughter, rape…) should suffer. I even think they get to do too much (they can work out, watch TV, play games, they have doctors…) I think those people should be locked up 24/7 and do nothing. It’s a prison, not a school or a gym.”
His views represent the majority of the viewers’ comments I found on the film’s site. All of that brings me back to peanut butter sandwiches. I have read most of the Texas press coverage of the “Lockdown” but could not find one article or even a paragraph that looked into what a lockdown means for the lives of prisoners. Not one journalist investigated, for example, the prison’s diet issue or dared to ask the simple question: why a peanut butter sandwich can not be supplemented by a tomato or an orange? Surely these additions would not have any real budgetary implications. There are dozens of ongoing documentary series on crime and prisons in this country. Yet it took one brave, lone British journalist to look beyond the Abu Ghraib prison scandal into the culture of brutality of our prisons right here at home. So for me the “Johnny Sack” meals are only a reflection of our collective attitude toward prisons, though we euphemistically call them “correctional facilities.” They have become places where we exercise a kind of collective revenge against human beings who have already been stripped, as punishment, of most of their rights. Peanut butter and lethal injections are just different dots on the same line.
“Your ass belongs to the Florida Criminal Justice System.” This is what a former prison guard in Deborah’s film recalls they were told to drill into prisoners. It always amazes me how in a country where “keeping the government off the backs of the people” is a campaign battle cry with which elections are being won, we seem not to care how in our prison archipelago of over 2 million people is exposed to the absolute power of the state. We even support it!